Friday, April 15, 2011

1947: Jackie Robinson’s America

In 1947, with WWII memories still fresh, the Cold War begins. The first VW Beetle arrives in America. The Best Years of Our Lives wins the Academy Award for Best Picture. Miracle on 34th Street (now a Christmas classic) debuts in theaters. A downed “spacecraft” is allegedly found in the Roswell UFO incident. The ENIAC, the first electronic computer, is activated. Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 rocket plane. Howard Hughes pilots the giant “Spruce Goose” for 8 minutes in its only flight. Meet the Press debuts on NBC. Scientists demonstrate the first practical electronic transistor. Births in 1947 included David Bowie, Dan Quayle, Mitt Romney, Elton John, David Letterman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, O. J. Simpson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Deaths included Al Capone and Henry Ford.

In 1947, racial segregation was still legal in both the U.S. military and schools. The Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination against blacks and women was still 17 years away. Hawaii, where Barack Obama would be born in 14 years, was not yet a state. On the 15th of April, Harold Washington (the future first black mayor of Chicago) celebrated his 25th birthday while Pete Rouse (President Obama’s second White House chief of staff) celebrated his first. Future baseball Hall of Fame player Reggie Jackson (“Mr. October”) was 10 months old.

This was Jackie Robinson’s America, 64 years ago, when he donned his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform and stepped onto sunny Ebbets Field in Flatbush, New York. He broke the “color barrier” as he strode to his position at first base, becoming the first African American to play modern Major League Baseball. The date was April 15, 1947.

"It was the most eagerly anticipated debut in the annals of the national pastime," wrote Robert Lipsyte and Pete Levine in Idols of the Game. "It represented both the dream and the fear of equal opportunity, and it would change forever the complexion of the game and the attitudes of Americans."

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